The legendary Arthur Pendragon helped to defend Britain against the Saxons in the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD, and as King, according to certain histories, established an empire over Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, and Gaul. Various stories and poems evolved in which Arthur battles mythical creatures, repels enemy armies, and executes impossible feats of power and skill. In King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the new film from director, Guy Ritchie, the hero fights his way up from the streets of Londinium, only to clash with his villainous uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), once Arthur has liberated the stone-locked Excalibur and thus signified his place in the Pendragon bloodline.
Once withdrawing the magnificent sword, King Arthur, played with unmalleable toughness by Charles Hunnam (The Lost City of Z, Crimson Peak), embarks on a mission to regain his land from the shadowy hold of the hellish sorcerer Mordred. Along the way he’s joined by Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), the mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillan), and others who banter comically between action sequences where enormous beasts, brutal warriors, and lightning-fast weapon play tear up the screen. When the chosen Arthur wields the sword its rumbling might begins to awaken, as the symbols on its blade shine forth a mystical white light.
Far from a typical action/adventure digital effects-laden spectacle, KA: LOTS rises on pillars of inspired camerawork, forceful acting, fast-paced editing, and a darkly imaginative visual world. The story advances quickly, slightly detached from the linear progression of time, often flashing back to events being recounted by characters in the present, with rapid dialogue and voiceover tying scenes together. When Arthur was an infant his father, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), was slain by his uncle, who transforms into a scythe-wielding, ten-foot tall, demonic reaper at the moment any serious business must be done. This tragedy haunts him as he traverses threatening landscapes, rallies his comrades, and prepares to conquer Vortigern’s kingdom.
While based on the legends surrounding the historical King Arthur’s rule, the film also incorporates imagery from ancient mythology, English folklore, and possibly sheer imagination, creatures like elephants as tall as skyscrapers, mile-long snakes, and cave-dwelling octopus-women who serve as oracles for Arthur’s nefarious uncle. The mage employs a well-trained eagle and serpent to aid the bold king in his conquest, and each of his allies has a turn to protect and serve their fearless leader. The hero himself charges on, although reluctantly at times, unconvinced of his royal destiny until his enemies surround him and the sword’s invincible power gets unleashed.
If this turns out to be a series, the second film will likely portray Arthur as the ambitious, resolute monarch he becomes by the end of the first. The Knights of the Round Table don’t quite make an appearance in Legend of the Sword, however there may be the beginnings of a Camelot where everyone who sits down with the king is seen as trustworthy and equal.